Last update: 05-Dec-2013 8:03 am
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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The exotic art of Mehendi
If you have ever been a guest at an Indian wedding or observed women in traditional Indian wear during certain festivals, you might have noticed markings on their hands and feet.
You may even have wondered about what they signify.
These markings are a form of body art called mehendi and are placed on the skin by a mehendi artist using a powdered form of the henna plant mixed with water to make a thick paste.
The paste then hardens to a crust and falls off, leaving a richly-coloured stain of whimsical patterns as a form of decoration to women.
Despite being worn during religious ceremonies by some women, mehendi is simply decorative with no hidden meanings but with a few myths surrounding its use.
Mehendi art comes from India and is a natural dye, used as a beauty product when culture and tradition forbid women to wear makeup.
It is body art and used mostly on special occasions such as weddings, and religious festivals like Divali.
Muslim women, who are not allowed to use nail polish, use the mehendi on their nails.
In an interview with the T&T Guardian, Mehendi artist Aysha Hans said the product was a natural dye that came from the henna plant.
The plant, which smells like a mixture of mint and rosemary is crushed and filtered to a lemon green powder. The powder is then mixed with water to make the mehendi paste. Some artists use oil or other liquids to mix with the powder. Other artists use a store-bought paste but Hans said she preferred to keep the process as natural as she could.
The Henna plant, in Indian culture is also used as a hair dye and to treat cuts and bruises, arthritis and skin diseases.
When completed, Mehendi looks very similar to a tattoo, only it is much more temporary, lasting approximately two weeks, and less expensive at around $25 to $50 per hand or foot.
Hans, who was born in India, started doing mehendi by practising on herself. She had left India at eight, already fascinated by the art.
“Mehendi is all feminine culture. It is a natural female fashion and has no chemicals,” said Hans.
She said the designs she created were not based on a template but came naturally as she worked with each individual’s hand.
“Mehendi is a natural art and the design can differ according to the hands I am working on. I watch the personality of the hand and design it according to the shape and contours of the hand.”
Despite being used on religious occasions, mehendi designs do not incorporate religious symbols and are in no way considered religious.
“It isn’t religious. It is traditional and decorative.”
Mehendi may not be religious but the art has developed its own myths and legends.
Brides are told that the darker the mehendi appears on their skin, the stronger the love in their marriage will be.
Hans was quick to explain that the colour of the Mehendi had nothing to do with myths but with the quality of the product used.
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